NASCAR at Atlanta results: Daniel Suarez wins thrilling Ambetter Health 400 in third-closest Cup finish ever

HAMPTON, Ga. -- In a frenetic final lap at the end of the most competitive race in Atlanta Motor Speedway history, Daniel Suarez prevailed in a three-wide photo finish to win the Ambetter Health 400, beating Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch to the finish line by mere inches. Suarez's second career win comes by virtue of the third-closest finish in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series since the implementation of electronic timing & scoring in 1993, with a mere .003 separating Suarez and Blaney and just .007 seconds separating Suarez from Busch in third.

Blaney led at the white flag and was driving defensively with half a lap to go when Busch made a daring move to his outside, using a push from Bubba Wallace to create a hole in the middle of three-wide just as Suarez got a run to Blaney's outside. The three drivers spent the final corner three-wide, with none of them breaking away from each other before Suarez prevailed narrowly at the finish line.

Ambetter Health 400 unofficial results

  1. #99 - Daniel Suarez
  2. #12 - Ryan Blaney
  3. #8 - Kyle Busch
  4. #2 - Austin Cindric
  5. #23 - Bubba Wallace
  6. #47 - Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  7. #1 - Ross Chastain
  8. #34 - Michael McDowell
  9. #17 - Chris Buescher
  10. #54 - Ty Gibbs

"It was so damn close, man. It was so damn close," Suarez told Fox Sports. "It was good racing. Ryan Blaney there, Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric also was doing a great job giving pushes. In the back straightaway he didn't push me because he knew I was gonna fight his teammate. But man, what a job.

"We wrecked Lap 2. The guys did an amazing job fixing this car. I can't thank everyone enough ... Wooo! Let's GO!"

Like everyone else, the finish also inspired awe into the two runner-ups. Ryan Blaney, who has won in several photo finishes before, acknowledged there wasn't much more he could have done to make up the inch he needed at the finish line. Busch, meanwhile, said afterward the position he found himself in entering Turn 3 was not the one he needed to in order to come out on top.

"What a cool finish ... I can't complain," Blaney told Fox Sports. "... I've won them by very, very little too. So I can't complain too much when I lose them by that much."

"Typically whoever's behind getting into 3 prevails at the start/finish line with the side draft and everything. I think I was second to the 12 right there, and the 99 was the furthest back and he made the ground back up with the side draft and stuff," Busch told Fox Sports. "I mean, I don't think you could stop. That certainly wouldn't have put us in the right spot either I don't think.

"... It's good to see Daniel get a win. We were helping each other being Chevy team partners and working together there. It shows when you do have friends and you can make alliances that they do seem to work. And that was a good part of today."

Officially, Suarez's victory comes in the third-closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history, with his .003 margin of victory trailing only the .002 margin of victory that Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch by at Darlington in 2003 and Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by at Talladega in 2011. It is also the closest finish in the history of Atlanta Motor Speedway, surpassing the .006 margin of victory that Kevin Harvick beat Jeff Gordon by in March 2001.

This race also marked the most lead changes in Atlanta history, as 48 lead changes were officially recorded at the start/finish line between 14 different drivers.

Beating, banging and banged Up

Suarez took the checkered flag despite being collected in one of the multiple accidents that occurred in what turned out to be a very physical race. That tone was set on Lap 2, when Austin Dillon got spun in front of traffic toward the front of the field in a chain reaction in the outside lane. The result was a 16-car pileup that collected many contenders and marked one of the largest crashes by car count in track history.

Multiple drivers like Suarez, Bubba Wallace, Chase Elliott and Tyler Reddick were able to battle on just to experience the many other accidents on the day. The yellow flag flew 10 times in total, and that doesn't include one incident at the entry to pit road during green flag stops involving Daytona 500 winner William Byron and polesitter Michael McDowell that didn't yield a yellow flag. Among the other contenders to be swept up in crashes included Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson, among others.

Despite the level of carnage at times, many drivers sang the praises of the level of excitement they experienced behind the wheel in the fifth race at Atlanta since the track was reconfigured into a quasi-superspeedway. Early in the race, Ryan Blaney made comments over his radio about how much fun he was having. Even Larson -- who has only finished one race at the New Atlanta in five tries -- let on that he enjoyed himself enormously.

"I actually had a lot of fun today. That was super intense," Larson told reporters outside the infield care center. "It's been a great race from start to where we're at now. Obviously [after] last week, no fuel savings, just guys going at it. It's been fun."

Compared to the Daytona 500, where large portions of green flag racing saw drivers backing off in the pack to save fuel, the action in Sunday's race was virtually nonstop from the drop of the green flag to the checkered flag. Not everyone, however, was happy with how their race went: Josh Williams in particular had quite the zinger after being the first car taken out of the race, likening the Lap 2 accident to the sort of racing he saw in several full-time seasons at a level known for more amateurish driving.

"I thought I left the ARCA series a long time ago, but apparently not," Williams told reporters.

Gilliland's Island

After a career-best fourth-place qualifying run Saturday, it was clear from talking to Todd Gilliland that he had full confidence he could not only run at the front, but also win Sunday's race. Had circumstances played out a little differently, he may very well have.

In a breakout performance and the best run of his Cup career, the third-year driver and third-generation of the Gilliland racing family took full advantage of one of, if not the, strongest cars in the field. Gilliland led the most laps with 58, taking the lead on six different occasions and time and again refusing to back down to drivers who have spent far more time at the front of the field than Gilliland has in his career so far.

Gilliland looked bound to play a major factor in the finish. But unfortunately, it wasn't to be: A flat right rear tire and broken toe link doomed Gilliland's race late, relegating him to a 26th-place finish and a more intangible level of satisfaction.

"It just felt like I really belonged," Gilliland told reporters in post-race. "I believe that in my heart every single week I show up to the racetrack, but a lot of the time we don't look like we belong. So it's just really nice to be racing with Truex, Hamlin, all the best of the best.

"That's all you can do is just give it your all when you're up there. I made a couple bad moves at the end which I'm really disappointed in right now. But leading that many laps and racing around those guys is what we need to do every week."

The 58 laps led by Gilliland mark not only a new personal-best -- besting his previous mark of 16 laps led in last week's Daytona 500 -- but it also gives him a very nice statistical distinction early in the season. With 73 laps led in total, Gilliland currently leads the Cup Series in the laps led category through the first two races of the season.

Gilliland's lap led total is also the most ever led in a single race by a Front Row Motorsports car, and the team's 78 laps led in total -- Michael McDowell led 27 laps from the pole before finishing eighth -- mark the most laps led by the team in a single race in its history.

Race results rundown

  • Of all the daring moves made in Sunday's race, none was more breathtaking than Austin Cindric's four-wide move on the frontstretch to take the top spot. Cindric wound up finishing fourth, marking his best finish overall since a third-place at Daytona in August 2022, and his 32 laps led mark the most Cindric has ever led in a single race in his Cup career.
  • A round of green flag pit stops saw multiple speed demons get penalized, as Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain all got called for being too fast on pit road. All three went a lap down, but all three were able to make that lap back up. And by the end of the race, all three -- Wallace in fifth, Stenhouse in sixth and Chastain in seventh -- finished together in the top 10. In Wallace's case, his second-straight top five makes him the only driver to have finished in the top five in the two races to start this season.
  • After his Daytona 500 lasted only a handful of laps before it ended in a wrecked racecar, Harrison Burton was yet again involved in another major crash in the opening laps when he was among those swept up in the Lap 2 pileup. But this time, Burton was able to continue and earned a nice bounce-back finish, just missing out on a top 10 in 11th.
  • The top-finishing rookie was Kaz Grala, who once again took Rick Ware Racing's No. 15 to the front of the pack at Atlanta. After J.J. Yeley earned a top 10 in the No. 15 here last July, Grala survived a spin in Turns 1 and 2 and drove up into the top 10 at intervals before coming home 14th. Both of the RIck Ware cars ended up in the top 20, with Justin Haley coming home 20th after a late-race spin.
  • Daytona 500 winner William Byron entered Sunday's race with a chance to become the sixth driver in NASCAR history to win the opening two races of the season, but it was not to be. Byron sustained damage to his car after an accident coming to pit road, but he was able to labor on in the draft and finish 17th.

Next race

After two drafting races to open the season, the NASCAR Cup Series goes to a more traditional 1.5-mile track for the first time next week with the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway next Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

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KYLE BUSCH SPLITS THE MIDDLE! THEY'RE THREE-WIDE COMING TO THE FINISH LINE! AT THE STRIPE! IT'S SUAREZ!!!!!!!!

SUAREZ WINS BY .003 OF A SECOND! IT'S THE SECOND-CLOSEST FINISH IN CUP SERIES HISTORY!

1 - #99 - Daniel Suarez
2 - #12 - Ryan Blaney
3 - #8 - Kyle Busch
4 - #2 - Austin Cindric
5 - #23 - Bubba Wallace
6 - #47 - Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
7 - #1 - Ross Chastain
8 - #34 - Michael McDowell
9 - #17 - Chris Buescher
10 - #54 - Ty Gibbs

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Suarez is trying to time his run, but Cindric behind him might not push him past Blaney. White flag this time by!

 
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Truex gets sent up into the high line by Suarez! He won't be a factor! Blaney trying to defend the lead from Suarez and Busch with three to go!

 
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Nice jump by Suarez at the green flag. That allows him to clear the outside line, and he goes up to cover Blaney but he can't do it! Blaney takes the lead with a push from Truex and now clears Suarez coming to four laps to go!

 
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Five laps to settle things here in Atlanta. Daniel Suarez is looking for the second win of his Cup career. Ryan Blaney is looking for his second win at Atlanta. Those two, and really any of the Top 10, have a shot to win this one.

Suarez chooses the inside and will have help from another Chevrolet in Kyle Busch. Ryan Blaney will have Martin Truex Jr. behind him, separating him from his teammate in Austin Cindric.

 
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Something you may not have noticed on the restart: Todd Gilliland's car has a broken toe link and he's now fallen three laps down. The best run of his career won't end with a chance to win.

Daniel Suarez is being scored as the race leader under caution. Then it's Blaney, Busch, Truex, Cindric, Wallace, Stenhouse, Chastain, McDowell, and Kaz Grala the top 10.

 
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TROUBLE MIDPACK! Josh Berry got turned into Carson Hocevar, and he spun up in front of traffic and that accident collects Chase Elliott. Caution is out again, and we're looking at another restart with less than 10 laps to go.

That was created in part by Austin Cindric pushing up the track and getting put in the middle of three-wide in Turns 1 and 2.

 
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Strong, tight formation on the inside line down the backstretch keeps Blaney out front. He's got a chance to control the pack as Cindric and Suarez race for second. Suarez gets a run as the field goes by the lapped car of Hamlin, and now Suarez and Blaney are side-by-side for the lead!

 
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Ryan Blaney is the race leader. Austin Cindric is second, but he elected to go to the inside at the choose zone and line up behind his teammate. That puts Daniel Suarez first on the outside line to challenge Blaney.

15 laps to go. Green flag!

 
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The red flag has been lifted and we're now back under caution. The sun has gone down, and we're set to fight out these last 20 laps under the lights.

Daniel Hemric, Todd Gilliland, Harrison Burton, William Byron, Ryan Preece, Austin Dillon and John Hunter Nemechek are among the cars who come to pit road. Meanwhile, the teams involved in the last few accidents have gotten a head start on loading up and heading back to North Carolina. We'll see if everyone else is able to make it to the finish or if we'll have more cautions in these final laps.

 
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NASCAR has elected to red flag this race with 19 laps to go. A bit of cleanup to be done and officials will try to preserve as many green flag laps as they can.

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